Beijing, Jan 31 (IANS) The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the new coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency after the death toll in China increased to 213 on Friday, with 9,692 confirmed in the country’s 31 provincial-level regions.
As 98 confirmed cases were reported from 18 countries, outside China, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the WHO, told the media on Thursday night: “I am declaring a public health emergency of international concern over the global outbreak of 2019nCoV, not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries.
“In many ways, China is actually setting a new standard for outbreak response. Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems, and which are ill-prepared to deal with it.
“We must remember that these are people, not numbers. More important than the declaration of a public health emergency are the committee’s recommendations for preventing the spread of the 2019nCoV virus and ensuring a measured and evidence-based response.”
Ghebreyesus’s declaration came after a group of 15 experts announced the global alert almost a week after its first declaration when the WHO assured that the outbreak had not reached the status of a global epidemic.
Meanwhile on Friday morning, China’s National Health Commission said that 1,527 patients remained in critical conditions, and 15,238 people were suspected of being infected with the virus, Xinhua news agency reported.
A total of 171 people had been discharged from hospital after recovery.
Thursday saw 1,982 new confirmed cases, 4,812 new suspected cases, and 43 deaths — 42 in Hubei province and one in Heilongjiang.
A total of 113,579 close contacts had been traced, the Commission said, adding that among them, 4,201 were discharged on Thursday, with 102,427 others still under observation.
Outside of China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, other countries with confirmed cases include the US, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, South Korea, Japan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Finland, Australia (two new cases reported on Thursday), France and Germany.
There have been no deaths recorded outside of China, reports Efe news.
The virus was detected in India and the Philippines for the first time since the outbreak.
The US, which already has five confirmed cases, announced the first instance in the country of a person-to-person transmission of the coronavirus, hence raising the total to six patients.
Russia, which so far has not reported any cases of coronavirus, has closed its eastern border with China.
A government-chartered flight with 210 Japanese nationals on board arrived on Thursday in Tokyo from Wuhan as part of the operation to evacuate hundreds of its citizens.
Singapore also airlifted 92 citizens from Wuhan on Thursday on a commercial Scoot airline flight, which landed at Changi Airport on Friday. Evacuees will undergo a medical examination and must remain in isolation for 14 days.
Thailand has a commercial aircraft on standby waiting for Chinese authorities to give the go-ahead, while Indonesia is also preparing to evacuate its citizens.
New Zealand’s government said that it was also arranging for a charter flight to Wuhan with the capacity for 300 passengers to evacuate its nationals, as well as Pacific Island and Australian citizens, subject to China’s approval.
The UK has confirmed it would evacuate 150 British nationals from Wuhan on Friday. They will share a plane with 20 Spaniards and 30 other passengers.
Turkey began the evacuation of 35 of its citizens from Wuhan on Thursday as well as 10 people from neighbouring Azerbaijan.
Vietnam has temporarily stopped receiving tourists from areas in China with confirmed outbreaks and was restricting the movements of Chinese tourists and those who have been to outbreak areas who are already in the country.